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Man Arrested On Hate Crime, Arson Charges For Coachella Mosque Fire

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A 23 year old man was arrested on suspicion of arson and a hate crime for Friday's fire at a Coachella Valley mosque.

The L.A. Times reports that Carl Dial was arrested on Friday night around 9 p.m. and booked on five felony charges, which include arson, maliciously setting a fire, second-degree burglary, and perhaps most significantly, for the commission of a hate crime.

The fire broke out at 12:10 p.m. at the Islamic Society of Coachella Valley, just before afternoon prayer services were about to begin. Witnesses reported a "Molotov cocktail-like device" had been thrown into the building, and exploded near the reception area. Firefighters contained the fire to the lobby, but the mosque sustained smoke damage. No one was injured.

Salahaldeen Alwishah of Indio, who was at the center at the time, told the Times that he believes "it was the will of God" that more people weren’t inside during the fire. "We were just here trying to be free and practice our religion just like everybody else," he said.

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The Sheriff's Department issued a statement following the fire saying that they believed the fire was "an intentional act," and that the case would be investigated by the FBI. "Anytime there is a concern that a house of worship may have been targeted, we would respond and have an investigative interest in cause and whether or not deliberate," an FBI spokesperson told NBC.

Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit visited the mosque on Friday night, and told the Times, "It's horribly lamentable that we would paint any group as undesirables based on the actions of an extremely small number of radical folks that don't represent the religion in any way," he said. "If in fact it was done with the mosque as a target ... it's reprehensible, and the people who perpetrated that act should be treated the way we would any other terrorist."

This fire is just one of several in a slew of attacks on Muslim-Americans in the past week, following the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino (which is about 75 miles away from the Coachella mosque). The shooters are believed to have been radicalized Muslims, who were inspired by the Islamic state.

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) offices in Washington, D.C. and Santa Clara were evacuated on Thursday after they received an envelope filled with suspicious white powder. A severed pig's head was found in a Philadelphia mosque on Tuesday. And in Orange County, a Sikh temple was vandalized; if the perpetrator was going for an anti-Islamic vibe, he did so erroneously —Sikhs are sometimes mistaken by racist ignoramuses as Muslim because of their style of dress and grooming.

Plus, this isn't the first time the Islamic Society of Coachella Valley has been targeted by anti-Islamic terrorists; last year, the mosque was shot at. It was investigated as a hate crime, but no one was ever arrested.

Ojaala Ahmad, communications coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles, told the Times, "It just comes to show how real 'Islamaphobia' is, how scary and how threatening it can become, and how dangerous Islamaphobia is to our nation and fellow Americans."

Dial is scheduled to appear in court at the Indio Larson Justice Center on December 16.